A former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr Obadiah Mailafia, has criticised the directive by President Muhammadu Buhari, to the CBN to stop allocation of foreign exchange for food importation.
He faulted the claims that the nation was self-sufficient in food. Mailafia noted that the policy was not well thought out, stressing that it would encourage all forms of illegal activities, including smuggling.
Speaking on Channels Television Sunrise programme on Thursday, the development economist said the decision of the CBN to implement the directive showed that it had been captured politically.
The former presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress in the 2019 general elections also stated that the apex bank had lost its professionalism and autonomy hence its willingness to pander to the whims of the political class.
He said, “I wish there was any thinking here. There has been no thinking whatsoever. You can’t run policy on a whim; you run policy based on technical and scientific understanding of the situation at hand.
“Somebody just woke up one morning and issued a diktat to the CBN. I feel disappointed; we don’t have an independent CBN anymore.
“There has been a capture of CBN, politically. It has no autonomy anymore; it is just an appendage of some people who are using it for whatever purpose that they want.”
Mailafia argued that the subservience of the CBN was reminiscent of the military era when soldiers looted the public treasury with impunity, describing the Presidential directive to the CBN as backward thinking.
The ex-CBN top shot also dismissed claims that the nation was now self-sufficient in food production, noting that food was more expensive across the country, citing the shortage of food in some Internally Displaced Persons Camps in the North-East which precipitated mass protests by hungry refugees last year.
He added, “It’s like we have got back to the military days when the military would literally bring tellers to the mint and order printing of fresh mints (currencies), load them into the trailers and drive off with them.
“You can never be more primitive in running an economy. It is not only primitive but completely backward thinking.”
In a related development, farmers have advised the government to take all necessary precaution as it implements the restriction of forex for the importation of food.
Speaking with one of our correspondents in separate interviews in Abuja, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria and the Cassava Growers Association of Nigeria lauded the initiative but urged the government to put the right things in place to make the plan work.
The National President, CGAN, Segun Adewumi, said, “It is a good development if we can take all the necessary precautions.
“Right now we are producing at subsistence level and that means the cost of production is high. I want them to understand that smallholder farmers in Nigeria can also produce at commercial levels.
“To achieve this, you get some hectares of land; you clear it, demarcate it into plots and allocate these plots to farmers. You now supervise them. I can assure you that where they used to produce two tonnes, they will start making up to five tonnes.”
Adewumi added, “And in that way, the cost of production here will equal the international rate, as against what we see right now in the sector.
“At this cost, food will be accessible to many and revenue will be generated not just for farmers but for government.”
The Chairman, AFAN, Lagos Chapter, Chief Femi Oke, said the government should not only ban forex for import of food but should also support local food processors and producers.
He said, “It is a good development. Rome was not built in a day; we have to start from somewhere. When the cultivation of rice in commercial quantities started, this was how the government encouraged its production by banning the importation of rice into Nigeria.
“So putting a ban on the importation of food items from abroad is to encourage all processors of agricultural crops. And I’m sure that they will now lay greater emphasis on assisting farmers that are into the production of crops.”
On whether Nigerian farmers had capacity to produce enough food for the country, the AFAN official stated that indigenous food producers were up to the task.
Oke said, “Of course, we have the capacity. Look at the issue of rice. Right now, every state in Nigeria is trying to produce rice in commercial quantities. So it is a good move by government to ban the importation of food items.”
He wondered why food was being imported into Nigeria when it could be produced in-country.